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Size of Iraqi force difficult to assess; dead are on payroll

WASHINGTON – Iraq’s government has kept thousands of dead, injured or absent policemen and soldiers on the payroll as a way to compensate or care for their families, an audit found.

The practice is just one example of why there are no reliable numbers on how many Iraqi forces are on the job at any given time, says the report being made public today by Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

“There are continuing uncertainties about the true number … who are present for duty at any one time,” Bowen said of Iraqi policemen, soldiers, border guards and other forces.

Bowen had been asked to assess last month’s Defense Department report on Iraq, one in a series of quarterly documents required by Congress to measure progress toward military and political security there.

The $20 billion U.S. program to train Iraqis to provide their own security is key to when U.S. troops levels can be reduced in Iraq. And the problem of assessing the Iraqi forces is not new.

Bowen noted that efforts have been made to improve the quarterly report’s data on the number of Iraqi forces that have been authorized, trained, are being paid and are on duty.

“However, the details included in the reports and other available information suggests a continuing need for caution in relying on the accuracy and usefulness of the numbers,” Bowen said.